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Issue`: December 2008
Photo of
Photo By Laura Roberts
Two Pump Chump


So it's a cold night in early November and I'm standing in the foyer of my home with Dave Bennett and Scott Cook (bassist and lead vocalist, respectively, for Two Pump Chump), and in one of those synchronicital moments, we start talking about filmmaker David Lynch, the Eraserhead/Blue Velvet/Twin Peaks/Lost Highwayguy. I tell them the David Lynch moment I had:

Several springs ago during the Audubon Park Dogwood Festival, when that neighborhood of large, sturdy old houses in the center of the city celebrates the blooming of all the dogwood trees that line its streets, and no matter what time of day it is you always feel like you're under a canopy of snow. It was night. Cars were slowly driving up and down Audubon Park Drive, the sidewalks crowded with people admiring the trees and the homes. Several people were stopped in front of a house with a wide front porch bathed in silvery floodlights. We had slowed our car to look. The porch itself was carpeted in red. Standing at the top of the steps was a white-haired man in a tux standing behind a microphone singing show tunes to karaoke background music. Next to him in a wing-backed chair was a woman dressed in a red gown. Even from where we were parked at the curb, we could see tiny glints and twinkles from the tiara she wore. And the microphone the man stood behind was unmistakable: a Shure PE 55 unidyne, or its replica, the one with a silver rectangular head and the black screen lines that run across the front, back, and over the top. When the man finished his song, canned applause roared from the speakers. And he bowed.

There's always a surrealistic twist to the everyday in Lynch's work, like the weirdest dreams just insert themselves into reality and, well, just fit. In this instance, however, six guys full of beer and profanity had just walked a quarter mile to my home in the cold and were lined up to use my bathroom. One of them wore a neck brace of opaque plastic and black fasteners that looked like a Klingon's miniature corset. Another was dressed in a black shirt, sport jacket, contrasting white tie and a black narrow-brim hat as if he'd just stepped out of a casting session of Saved by the Bell. In a few minutes, they would be draped in Christmas lights on my front porch, some wearing Santa hats. The only difference between this night and something out of a David Lynch film was that nobody was going to huff amyl nitrite from an aerosol can hidden in his coat, nobody was going to lip-sync to Roy Orbison into a work light, and nobody was going to lose an ear.

The only other difference was this visit had been planned. Everything but the lineup to the bathroom.

From Left, Sean Burton, Brad Mattingly, Niq Wittig (manager/producer), Scott Cook, Travis 'Traz' Mudd, Dave Bennett . Photo by Laura Roberts

And the same could be said for Two Pump Chump, where five guys who seem to do nothing but laugh loud and make off-color jibes at each other can pull their talents together and make tight, hard-rock music that brings a party to wherever they play, like one of David Lynch's movies that seem to spiral out of control halfway through but always pull together and tie off cleanly at the end. Sometimes.

"We play well with each other," stated electric triangle player (and drummer) Sean Burton. "We're not trying to show how many licks we can do in a song. We know how to play together."

"We're an ensemble in a lot of ways," said bassist Bennett. "Apart, we don't do anything worth a crap. But together we're Seinfeld."

The band members exploded into laughter. We were sitting outside Wick's Pizza on that chilled night in early November, asses getting numb from sitting on frigid aluminum patio chairs. Inside Wick's it was warm, but too crowded and noisy to record an interview. Outside the only thing we had to contend with was a occasional passing of a noisy TARC bus and a sharp cold wind that snacked at us every several minutes. We tried to keep the conversation short, the questions direct, but, like Seinfeld, it sometimes became about nothing, the talk veering off into the creepy-elf appearance of the dude on the Shamwow commercials ("Ya followin' me, camera guy?"), to what it's like having an army of people who have your back if you are born and raised in the South End of Louisville, to the real reason assistant lead guitarist Travis "Traz" Mudd was wearing a neck brace (the story changed as the discussion went on, from being attacked by a grizzly bear to having a degenerative disc, to a getting whacked in the face while pairs-skydiving in the nude).

Niq Wittig, the guy dressed as if he had raided the Saved By the Bellwardrobe room, whom the band hired to be their manager, producer, and guy who generally had the testicular fortitude to tell them which songs of theirs sucked and which ones sucked less, had some difficulty in getting used to how the band members relate to each other. This from a guy who had worked with Motley Crue and Linkin Park.

Dave Bennett and Scott Cook. Photo by Damon Atherton

"This is the way everybody gets along," he said. "This is something I had to get used to."

It was mutual, however. The band wasn't used to having critique their songs as intensely as Witting did. But after four years playing clubs and self-producing their own CDs, Two Pump Chump had been shopping around for someone to rein in their craziness and lock in a quality sound.

"I saw a message from these guys looking for a manager," said Wittig, a Californian. "I didn't think I was going to do anything with them necessarily. I listened to some of their stuff, and I decided to meet with them. And after I met with them and saw how open they were to suggestions and how open they were to make certain tweaks and changes, then I decided this was the most ideal fit for me now."

But to the band that fit didn't seem as ideal at first.

"We had a whole CD pretty much done," said vocalist Cook, "and when Niq came over he went thought it and said 'that sucks, that sucks, that sucks, you're cool, that sucks.' So we kept maybe three songs and the rest we re-wrote, which we were pissed off about. I thought, 'Man, I hate this guy already.' But we re-wrote and I'm glad we did, because it's 100-times better than what we were about to put out."

"I felt like I was being evaluated at a job," Bennett said.

"What we needed to do," Witting added, "was really show what these guys were capable of. And when we went into the writing process on this, I was there every step of the way, making sure they were meeting their full potential."

"It's the CD we should have released four years ago," added lead guitarist Brad Mattingly.

2004: Two Pump Chump has a locked-and-loaded lineup after Travis "Traz" Mudd joins the band. Their first gig, after only three rehearsals, a battle of the bands competition. In the excitement, Mudd dives of the stage into a crowed enfrenzied by their music. Or falls off, depending on who's telling the story. It took a few years to get to that point, though. The band's own mythology has it starting at a Billy Graham Crusade with three lesbians and a can of tuna fish. The real origin is much more ordinary.

"Brad [Mattingly] and I went to high school together," Cook said. "We didn't really know each other, but in college we'd run into each other and start playing music together. So he and I had always been in different bands. We were in a band called Freedom, and we had a singer who was a great guy but he wrote so many sissy songs, things like Air Supply would do. He quit his own band, so Brad and I had to move on."

Dave Bennett, who had worked with Mattingly's brother, joined as bassist, then Burton answered an ad the band had placed to recruit a drummer.

"We tried out a bunch of drummers," Cook said. "Sean was the first one. We liked him."

"They felt sorry for me," Burton claimed.

The next day, Burton called Bennett and said the band didn't need to try out the other drummers. The band auditioned the other drummers anyway. "That phone call was the reason why he got it," Cook said.

"I saw the potential in these guys," Burton said. "I wanted it. I wanted it bad."

"Then they were falling apart," assistant guitarist Mudd said, "so they got me."

In actuality, Mudd was playing in a band called Garden of Stone. "We used to play with them a lot," Cook said. "We thought they were a great band. We had another guitar player at the time, but we would watch Travis and I would tell Brad that if he ever quits, I'd go after him. It so happened that the guy quit us and Travis was suddenly without a band, so it all just fell together."

And about that name. . .

"Brad came up with it. There was a band back in the late 80s called Salty Dog," Cook said, "and they had a song called 'He Hard, She Comes Easy.' And there's a line in there, 'She's gonna tell all her ugly girlfriends you're nothing but a two-pump chump.'"

Type the words "two pump chump" into your favorite search engine, and while the band's new web site hasn't quite made it to the top of the listings just yet (as of this writing, that is), you will find it is among links to web sites about pills, stiffy-creams, tantric sex videos, lots of items to prevent a guy from blowing it out too quickly (one link actually has the question, "What's Wrong With My Man?"). Somewhere among all that you'll also find a link to the band's MySpace page.

"My mom doesn't like the name of the band," Bennett said. "She's not into it. She asked me what it means and I said it was a sexual reference. She said, 'Why'd you have to name it that!' I said, 'It was either that or I Love Satan! And we voted. It was close.'"

Since that band-battle show four years ago, Two Pump Chump has played in nearly every venue in town (except for Louisville Gardens and the Kentucky Center, bassist Bennett guesses), self-produced four CDs, one of which they didn't release, and has been a regular guest in the Den of Sin, the basement Internet broadcast studio of James Vize (a.k.a. Fender), formerly of aiiradio.net but now a part of wildliferadio.com.

"Fender's a huge supporter of ours," Burton said. "He's done a lot for us. We started when he was with aiirradio. We were one of his first bands in the studio. With him doing that we got a lot of fans over in the UK. We've got three or four of them determined to get us over there."

"Hopefully next year," Cook said.

"Hopefully nothin'," Burton replied. "It's the time of the Chump, baby. We're going!"

The flagship item for the Time of the Chump is the CD the band is currently finishing up, Party at the Crib. It's a reference to the call-and-response they would do during their performances on Fender's aiiradio show, where one of the band members would call out, "Whereza party at?" And the response from the crowd watching the show would be, "At the crib, motherf***er!" The tracks were recorded at guitarist Mattingly's home (called Cave Cricket Studios because it's infested with a bunch of those spindly, non-chirping insects) then sent to Chris Cassetta at Canyon Studios for mixing and mastering. It is scheduled for release in early 2009.

"The writing's gotten better a lot better through each individual," Burton said.

"The other CDs I pretty much wrote," said Cook. "This one, we alldid. That makes a big difference. Having everybody's input makes it so much better."

Mudd makes a more vivid comparison. "You can buy a 39-cent burrito at Kroger and eat it, and it's all right. Or you can go to Kroger and buy a 39-cent burrito and throw some sauce on it, and it' bad ass."

There's also an official logo designed by Louisvillian Jeff Gaither: the chump, a battered kid in baggy shorts and shirt, standing in front of a Fleur-de-lis with a cigarette pack rolled up in on sleeve and oversized, clunky Depression-era shoes on his feet, hoisting a heavy pair of boxing gloves. He's gotten the crap knocked out of him, but he's still ready to go another round or two with you.

Even with a suggestive band name and a defiant, tough little mascot for a logo, Two Pump Chump is only about one thing: entertainment.

"We're about the smiles," Cook said, "and havin' fun. We don't take ourselves seriously. What separates us from other bands is they can play 100 notes a minute, we can make 100 jokes a minute."

"We're serious about not being serious," Mattingly chimed in.

"You come in and pay your money, we're gonna entertain you," Cook continued. "I'm not gonna show you how many high notes I can hit, because I can't. I'll just smile a lot and wink at ya. Like Sarah Palin. She was stealing all my moves."

The only downside? Dealing with drunk fans.

"I get into a band to get all the hot chicks," Cook confessed, "and all I get is a bunch of drunk dudes coming up and saying, 'Hey, man, I love you.' That's not what I signed up for."

"That's the myth of rock-and-roll right there," Bennett said. "It's not the hot chicks that come after you. It's the drunks."

Dealing with the deflation of the rock-and-roll myth and facing up to the real task of what it means to be a performer, of being an entertainer first and foremost, and also finding out it takes more than just one band member to make a song work, has taken the guys in Two Pump Chump out of bar-band land and raised their own expectations of themselves. But they still keep themselves rooted in reality with all the fun they have together. Like the man in Audubon Park doing show-tune karaoke in a tux, Two Pump Chump combines entertainment value with a mild twist.

And a bunch of naughty sauce.

Get it on with the chump and find out about the forthcoming Leave Your Boyfriend at Home Tourat www.twopumpchump.com.

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